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New technology for cars helps make driving safer for seniors

When you first got your driver's license, chances are you drove off without buckling up. Seat belt use wasn't required until 1984, when New York became the first state to make it mandatory. Nearly 30 years later, this relatively low-tech safety device is still a lifesaver.

Decades later, if your driving skills have lost some of their acuity, there are cutting-edge technologies that now can help to protect you and your passengers.

"The type of technologies being built into vehicles today can help strengthen the driving experience," says Jodi Olshevski, executive director of the Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence, a division of the Hartford insurance company. "It can help with enhanced safety, with comfort and with confidence."

Olshevski's organization, along with Massachusetts Institute of Technology's AgeLab, researched new features available on cars and identified the Top 10 technologies that can help older drivers. No. 1 on the list: smart headlights that can help seniors feel more confident about driving at night because they automatically adjust their range and intensity based on traffic. "That helps to reduce glare and improve night vision," Olshevski says.

Another feature you should consider is an emergency response system that will get you quick assistance in case of a medical emergency or accident.

And for seniors who find backing up has become more difficult, a reverse monitoring system warns you if objects and pedestrians are near the rear of your car when you shift into reverse.

For the full list of Top 10 technologies and how they help older drivers, go to "If you focus and concentrate on that list of 10, then you know that your vehicle is going to be equipped with the kind of technology that can be beneficial," Olshevski says.

However, no matter how high-tech your car is, it can't compensate for some problems older drivers face. "We know that if a person is having difficulty with driving, it often can be traced to a health condition," Olshevski says.

As you maintain your vehicle, make sure to maintain your body. Get regular physical checkups and a yearly eye exam, experts say. Those normal aches and pains that come with age can make driving hazardous if they make it difficult to turn your head or body. Exercises that improve range of motion and flexibility have been shown to reduce accidents for older drivers.

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